While finding mucus in your stool can be alarming, some mucus in the stool is normal. Mucus has a jelly-like quality and can be either white or yellowish in color. Its function is to coat and protect our gastrointestinal tract, lungs, sinuses, and throat. This viscous substance coats the lining of the intestines and colon, serving as lubrication against bowel irritation and stomach acids.
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The function of mucus in the digestive system is to help food pass through our esophagus, and over our mucus membranes. Even though mucus is something that the human body naturally produces, when an excess of mucus is found in the stool, it can indicate an underlying health condition or disease. Disease causes inflammation, which then causes the body to produce excess mucus as a means to heal itself.
So, what is a normal versus an abnormal amount of mucus? An abnormal amount of mucus, is when a large amount of mucus is present, or there is a change in color, including blood or pus in the stool. This excess mucus may also be accompanied by other discomforts, such as fever, bloating, abdominal cramping, rectal bleeding, and an increase or decrease in bowel movements. These symptoms may be indicative of a more specific condition, as listed below.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (more commonly known as IBS) is a fairly common condition – present in 25 to 55 million Americans from the teenage years to early 40s, predominantly in females -- that affects the large intestine, or colon, and can cause excess mucus. The causes are not fully known, but symptoms can include abdominal pain, bloating, and alternate between constipation and diarrhea. While there is no cure for IBS, symptoms can be treated with medications for each respective symptom.
Inflammatory Bowel Diseases
This is a more serious condition than irritable bowel syndrome, though it has many of the same symptoms, including causing an excess of mucus in the digestive tract. There are multiple types of inflammatory bowel disease, including Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis. A weakened immune system and chronic inflammation are present in both of these conditions. Crohn’s Disease causes the body’s immune functions to go into overdrive, thinking it is constantly under attack, causing excess inflammation. Ulcerative Colitis is a condition of the lower intestine and rectum, where open sores, called ulcers, are present. Surgery may be required for these conditions to heal, but medication to treat symptoms may be sufficient.
There may be something obstructing the bowels from functioning properly, causing excess inflammation and mucus. This can be caused by constipation from food allergies, dehydration, or a kink in the bowels. Treatment most often requires improving hydration, allowing the bowels to function properly, addressing the food allergy, or, in the case of an anatomical obstruction, surgery may be needed.
Infections due to viruses, bacterial infections, and parasites can cause diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, as well as excess mucus production. Viral causes can be the astrovirus, norovirus and rotaviruses. In the case of bacterial infection, these can include helicobacter pylori, E. coli and salmonella. These are caused by being exposed to contamination in raw meat or produce. Shigellosis is caused by bacteria that develops in the intestinal lining due to food and water contamination and overcrowded living spaces. It causes diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, and can lead to dehydration. It can go away on its own within a few days, but antibiotics may be administered to provide relief.
Proctitis is an inflammation of the lining of the rectum. The rectum is located at the end of the colon, and is the point where the stool is passed out of the body. This inflammation can be caused by sexual transmitted diseases, radiation therapy, inflammatory bowel disease, and infections transmitted through food borne pathogens. It causes rectal bleeding, swelling, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and a continual urge for bowel movements. This is usually treatable with a course of antibiotics, unless it is chronic and caused by inflammatory bowel disease, in which case surgery may be required to relieve symptoms.
When to See Your Doctor
If there is an increase in mucus in the stool, accompanied by symptoms of dehydration, fever, or blood in the stool, medical attention should be sought immediately. With proper medical treatment, the inflammation can be reduced, causing a decrease in mucus production and symptoms.